Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Notes on a Scandal

Wow. Really wow. I just finished watching Notes on a Scandal. Wow.

I am absolutely blown away by the twisted story that lays out so beautifully in this film. I had read the book by Zoƫ Heller, originally titled [What Was She Thinking?] Notes on a Scandal, around Christmas of my sophomore year of college (2004), and I didn't particularly enjoy it nor did I even glimpse the magnitude of the story. After the film came out in theaters this past December I sat down to read the book again so that when I viewed the film I would remember the details in an attempt to judge the filmmaker in his challenge of doing justice to the book.

Today the DVD was released of the film and I picked it up on my way home. As I sat down to watch the film I have to admit my expectations were low because I wasn't particularly happy with the book either time I read it and I have found only a handful of movies based on books that I felt did justice to the author's creation.

Boy was I wrong going into this one.

Not only are Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett amazing actresses, as you are watching them you seem to forget that these women are anyone other than the characters they play onscreen. If I didn't know better I would believe I had just met two women by the names of Sheba Hart and Barbara Covett. Perhaps that is what makes them amazing actresses?

When I read the novel, both times, I found it odd in one portion of the book (wonderfully scripted for a scene in the film) that Barbara had asked Sheba if when she was in school they participated in a somewhat odd stress-reducing activity of stroking each other's arms. Sure, weird, I know, but I didn't read anything into it. Somehow throughout the entire novel I missed the complete obsession Barbara has with Sheba in a very twisted way. I missed in the novel, or maybe it wasn't there, that Barbara had this sort of an obsession with a previous woman. And I must say with mention of the restraining order, the order placed by the previous female teacher that Barbara had become obsessed with, I was stunned. How did I miss this?

In addition to this, I hadn't realized the age difference between Sheba and her husband. Bill Nighy plays Richard, Sheba's husband, in the film and his appearance in contrast to that of his wife, played by Cate Blanchett, is stark.

I'm quite disappointed in myself for having missed so much in the book--which seems to be very close to the film because many of the lines rang in my head as very, very familiar.

One of the other very unexpected things that came with viewing the film is my disdain for both Sheba and Barbara for tearing apart that family (which you sort of are lead to believe comes back together near the end). My first reading of the book left my angry with Sheba for having given up so much for a mistake, my second reading left me the most angry with Barbara for betraying her friend, and my watching of the film left me angry with them both more or less because of Ben, Sheba's son. Maybe the book mentions it and my memory does not serve me well, but it wasn't until Ben's entrance in the first family scene with Sheba, Richard, Barbara, and the children, that it dawned on me that Sheba's disabled son has Down Syndrome. I have a very soft spot in my heart for those with Down Syndrome and when Ben walked into the room I think the best way to describe my reaction was rage. I was so furious with Sheba for doing what she did and even more furious with Barbara for watching her friend's life fall to pieces.

The affair between Sheba and her student doesn't come to light for a good twenty minutes into the film which is much different than the book where it appears on page one. At least in the book you know from the beginning, the movie gives you time to hope it isn't really going to happen.

Have I mentioned how blown away I was by the accuracy and brilliance of this film? The entire film rings familiar to those who have read the book which can't be said for some films taken from the context of books.

I finished watching the film a good hour ago and I am still sitting here amazed with it. Surprised, completely thrown off, and reeling, but very much impressed with this particular filmmaker and whomever created the screen play. Wow.

Really wow.

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